The topic of the psychological effects of violence is an intriguing topic with much potential, particularly when addressed by a professor of psychology who is also a career military officer, but ultimately that potential is what made On Killing so disappointing.
With verbatim repetitions throughout, it more resembles a collection of essays than a book. The most serious issue though, is the presence of speculative and sweeping assertions, such as the claim that, what is hubristically described as a previously undiscovered aspect of psychology (revulsion to killing), may have been responsible for the election outcomes of wartime Presidents forced to go to the polls immediately after the end of hostilities. To the author's credit he does acknowledge that last assertion might be extending his work too far.
It is clear when evidence is offered, such as frequent references to B.F Skinner's (at best) obsolete work, that Grossman didn't do his homework. Most troubling, however, is the study on which Grossman rests his thesis; S.L.A Marshall's survey of World War II soldiers claiming to show only 25% will fire at an exposed enemy. The soldiers supposedly interviewed later denied ever being asked about their firing rates, a fact which has been known to military psychologists for over twenty years. It would be interesting to buy the physical copy of this book to see the bibliography.
The number and severity of basic errors costs makes the reader wonder if the author knows what he is talking about, and that's a shame given the enormous potential and relevance of this topic. On a positive note, the narration was good.
Hike and Paddle Guide
This book shows how the military overcomes the natural instinct of killing in the battlefield and how violence and life taking impacts Military Veterans. After serving in the US Military, I found it a powerful review of the impact of killing and its downstream impact on Military Veterans and Society.
I am a Basic Training Commander and Combat Veteran. My father and Grandfather and likely his served. I can attest to the principles presented in this study. Everyone should read!
I have read this book in print and also now in audio. Dave was a very good narrator as well as author. This book provides excellent perspective on many aspects of both life and war.
Even as a 35 yom it gave me a different view of every war conflict the united states has ever been involved in. The way we treated veterans especially from Vietnam was disgusting and shameful. It gives me hope that we will look back at how we treat police officers in 2016 and people will be ashamed with themselves for how they acted as well.
I was glues it took me a few days to finish this book.
Dave did a great job all around. Though some of his views may be a little zoned in for some. He is still a very smart and insightful man. I encourage anyone to read, anyone.
The best thing I can say about this book is that it has some very chilling and fascinating first hand accounts from combat veterans. A majority of those came from other sources though. It's a largely U.S. centric view of war minus a few looks into how Napoleon and the Romans conducted warfare. There are definitely good insights into the psychological trauma of combat and killing in this book but I really don't buy into Grossman's interpretation of data in some places. He claims that low firing rates among US soldiers in WW2 is evidence that humans are naturally opposed to killing and that was the largest factor. I don't disagree that most humans on their own are averted to killing and conflict. It's just that from what I gather in other reading, I would suspect the soldiers fired less, largely out of fear of exposing themselves to the enemy much more than the aversion to possibly killing another human being. Also less training and conditioning would be a factor when comparing them to Vietnam firing rates, which he does mention.
Grossman also tries to use some WW2 statistics regarding fighter pilots to the same end. The stats show that an extremely small amount of pilots accounted for a vast majority of the air to air kills. This statistic is true but I would argue that evolving air combat tactics were the main reason for this, not just the pilot's aversion to fire at enemy planes and kill. My understanding from reading how air combat worked in this war, is that aces relied heavily on their wingmates to distract and pull targets. The wingmates would rely on the higher flying ace to quickly and accurately ambush (boom & zoom) the enemy before they, the bait; was shot down. This kind of tactic helped aces rack up a lot of kills while the majority of pilots acted as distractions and support.
The main thing Grossman pushes that really makes no sense in this book is that media violence spawns real life violence in America, which is unproven to say the least. Statistically we are in the least violent time in American history, so it seems that violent media could've actually lowered the amount of violence in real life. He also makes claims about how the violent crime rate would sky rocket if the US didn't lock away as many people as it does. It's complete ignorance. We all should know the prisons have been overflowing for decades because of a bullshit drug war that exploits the poor and largely people of color in this nation. The massive majority of people are locked up for non-violent drug offenses. Fucking violent movies and video games are not the problem here. It's really disappointing to see Grossman continue to peddle this shit even to this day, look at his upcoming book "Assassination Generation".
I wouldn't recommend this book or author but recommend checking out the source material used here. Also check out "What It Is Like To Go To War" by Karl Marlantes for a deep and honest look into the war and killing experienced by a Vietnam veteran.
For anyone in the military, first responder, or their family member this is a guide to PTSD and answers why they may be suffering. To understand the root problem is to find the answer to your question.
I first encountered Lt. Col. Grossman's work the way many people do; as part of the curriculum of my Police Academy. At that time we had an excerpt from this text that was mandatory reading and we were encouraged by our instructors to read the full text.
I believe that this book is a must read for anyone in the military, especially combat arms, and especially important for civilian law enforcement personnel, Lt. Col Grossman's exhaustive study of this subject matter may save many lives if the reader is inclined to apply the concepts herein.